Aug 18, 2009

Rule Of Thumb: The Writer's Responsibility

Aug 18, 2009
This isn't technically a rule of thumb, but this seems as good a place as any for it.

A writer should be fully aware of what message their script is sending and take full responsibility for it.

Now obviously this is delving more into the realms of personal philosophy, but read on and see if you agree with me.

The instant anyone puts what's in their head to paper with the intention of selling it, they lose the right to absolute artistic freedom. Whether they like it or not, their work is no longer just for them... there is a bigger responsibility now. If any individual wishes to keep their artistic freedom, they should not attempt to have their work published.

My reasoning for this seemingly unreasonable claim is that art, commercial art, has a big impact on those who witness it. It inevitably influences them to some degree. So if I were to write and sell a film that glorified rape, I could not then proceed to deny responsibility for those that took the message on board.

The fact is that all films possess both constructive and destructive elements that impact the world for better or worse, so as a writer it is my job to sift through my work and ensure that I am communicating as few destructive messages as possible.

Now, let me be clear that I am not suggesting that we all start writing sickeningly perky tales with flawless protagonists that work at homeless shelters and save drowning puppies in their spare time. Heck, the number of writer suicides would skyrocket if that happened. No, I am suggesting that we look at our own work and carefully examine what we are really glorifying and what we are really vilifying.

In that scene where the psycho killer was torturing that vulnerable girl, was the act appropriately vilified? Or, really, did the scene exist just to satisfy and feed some perverse quality in the heart of the viewer?

In that scene where the student really stuck it to his teacher with that hilarious monologue, was the teacher acting destructively enough to justify it? Or, really, did the scene just promote rebellion purely for rebellion's sake?

They can be small messages contained subliminally within single scenes, or even be the whole point of the script. Regardless of their prominence or relevance, writers needs to ask themselves what they are saying and what effect it's having on their audience.

---

Of course, messages can always be misinterpreted in ways unintended by the original author, but assuming the original author did all they could to be clear it cannot be helped. You can only take responsibility for what you've actually written.

So, did you find yourself nodding as you read this? Or were you shaking your head with a furrowed brow? Let's hear your thoughts!

20 comments:

  1. As a writer if I said this wasn't true, I would only be devaluing my own craft.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is very interesting.
    'so as a writer it is my job to sift through my work and ensure that I am communicating as few destructive messages as possible.'
    I think writers would disagree with that because of artistic freedom, I know that’s opposite to what you said but that’s the defense for questionable acts in film.
    Isn’t that because of the genre and freedom of speech/ write.
    Not everyone would be concerned with morality.
    I’m thinking of the song polly by nirvana. The song re-enacts the rape and torture of a girl Cobain had read in the paper.

    There was a case of two young men who raped a girl while singing this song to her.
    Cobain didn't take responsibility for it it's people's choice to act out. That's how he saw it.

    Same case when Michael Moore interviewed Marilyn Manson in bowling for columbine;
    About how in the aftermath of the shootings people were fixated on Manson as the main influence as the boys were huge fans.
    "I represent what people are afraid of, because I do and say what I want"
    "But does everybody who watches a Lexus ad go and buy a Lexus?"
    Artistic freedom. And if people act out on what he sings about that’s their choice, that's how he sees it.

    I don't think writers and directors care, some are not focused on presenting morals, just themselves, a culture, anything they want, it's there movie, or song or poem.

    The film pulp fiction promotes a lot of drug use, the way the scene is shot when Vincent shoots up is played out real cool, With some mad surf music in the background, and he's pleasantly funny while he's high.In an interview Travolta admits that he believed the film promoted drug use.

    I agree with you totally about scenes in movies that illustrate points and scenes that go beyond a point and seem like it's glorifying it.
    'Or, really, did the scene exist just to satisfy and feed some perverse quality in the heart of the viewer?'
    In most cases I think yes the viewer and director/ writer.

    The French film irreversible has a 10 minute (approx) rape scene.
    Does it prove a point? glorify it? Screw with the audience
    in the director's intention for shock value? I’m not sure, some critics might see the movie as brave and cutting edge.

    In the film Mystic River a boy is abducted by a priest and another man and he is taken to a shed where he is tortured and raped over a period of a few days.
    The way Clint Eastwood shows us this is in a very short scene with narration,

    The boy is huddled in the corner of the shed, the door opens and the two men emerge, "No! No more!“ The kid screams, cowering and crying, the shadows of the men cover him.

    That’s all he shows, a suggestion. You get the point he makes without witnessing the graphic act. I found this admirable on so many levels from him being sensitive to the audience, victims of the same crime, the child actor involved, Eastwood is just awesome.
    (I’ve seen some directors make children do some terrible things on film to illustrate points)

    I think your argument applies to writers who would be concerned with morals and stuff, or who are writing for a young audience.

    ReplyDelete
  3. However, that first blue point I might have worded 'If you don't want to take responsibility for your writing, then you shouldn't publish your work.' Or 'As soon as you release your work publicly, you are acknowledging that the work is for them, not for you'.

    What do you mean when you say an artist has artistic freedom?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Woah, hey Jen. Didn't expect you to post just before me.

    Not wanting to put words in Luke's mouth, I'll say that I believe people should be responsible for realised message of anything they make. When I say responsible, I don't necessarily mean legally but morally - whether or not they want to be.

    So Clint Eastwood should be sleeping easy.

    I think artists take a public forum for granted these days.

    I guess it comes down to four views that I can think of:
    1) Art released publicly can influence people and society, and that responsibility should be treated with care
    2) Art released publicly can influence people and society, but freedom is more important than a healthy society.
    (In which case, why have any rules at all, legal or moral?)
    3) Art released publicly can influence people and society, but who cares right? Whatever.
    4) Art released publicly cannot influence people and society.
    (Why make art?)

    I can only believe in 1), and so I hold myself accountable to how my work affects people.

    "But does everybody who watches a Lexus ad go and buy a Lexus?"
    No, but a few do buy Lexus' - and not only that but as the ads run on, slowly society subconsciously comes to accept the Lexus.
    That's a bad example, Marilyn.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow, awesome comment, Jen! I love that you've really thought about it!

    And well said Mutt. I'll just add one more thought to that.

    A school teacher does not have absolute freedom of speech because they have a responsibility to their students. I highly doubt a lesson on how Hitler was an inspiration would fly too well with parents. The same goes for writers and filmmakers, they are also teachers and are in a position of respect and influence.

    The fact is that we are all influenced by art, not just kids (An Inconvenient Truth, anyone?), and it's not exclusively a moral issue either. I think we can all agree that some actions are universally destructive and should never be uplifted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh, and Clint Eastwood's handling of that rape scene? Brilliant. A perfect example of how dealing with negative situations both tastefully and respectfully can be so much more powerful than showing it up front.

    And a 10 minute rape scene? That's not brave to me, that's sick. Shock value is never a good excuse because viewers can become increasingly resistant to it, and anyone who wants to watch 10 minutes of rape has serious issues.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mutt I agree with your 1) point, because of my personal beliefs
    Everything I do I am accountable for.
    Taking responsibility for realised messages, they should take responsibility but they wont.
    for one thing not everyone agrees on what is right and wrong.
    Artists can say and showcase what they want in public forums with no concern for anyone. Freedom of speech they will claim.
    It’s post modern philosophy, everything that you thought was right, wrong, moral or immoral; post modern thinking asks you to throw all of it out the window.
    A great example of this is a few years ago the film that won the cannes film festival was a
    Documentary about 6 men who have sex with horses! Bestiality wins a prize.
    And you can see why it won, “whoa so cutting edge, what an original screen play, blah, what shock value”

    ReplyDelete
  8. ...and just regarding right and wrong,
    last semester in my debates class, a student was talking about these minors who killed and raped a 16 year old girl and how the court system didnt know how to handle it, cause two of the boys were under 18.
    They should be treated as adults, I said
    They know what they did was wrong!
    Everone looked atme, all these students from scientific and philosophic backgrounds looked at me, Some almost in unicen said: But what is right and what is wrong? You dont know how these boys have been raised.

    Yes I dont know how they have been raised, but doesnt everyone have a built in conscience which you can chose to listen to or ignore?
    Your rapping someone, their screaming, in your heart you would know ur hurting them, u would know its wrong, under 18 or not.
    these boys probably have been hurt psycally, from tripping, or falling of a bike, you would know " that hurts... this is unpleasant"
    ahhh, im just ranting

    ReplyDelete
  9. That's what happens with 'progress' when people don't have any fundamental beliefs. They believe that progress is just movement in any direction.

    I love how C.S. Lewis said it, when he said that when people have gone off on the wrong track, the first person to turn back is the one making the most progress.

    Unfortunately people who haven't thought about it say there is no such thing as a 'wrong track'.
    These are the same people who will still point out everything that is wrong with society, and complain when I steal their car.

    As far as being accountable goes, I still think artists should be accountable to society if not themselves, which is who they are serving anyway whether they realise it or not.

    That's still not impeding on free speech, just as much as someone who hires a carpenter to build a house and then complains when the carpenter builds a spiked pit is not impeding free speech. The carpenter being paid to build a safe house for someone else and really doesn't have a right to complain.

    In regards to the rape incident, what people don't understand when they say 'Ah, but what is right and wrong', is that they're missing the point. These boys were old enough to be able to understand that other people have a right to choose, and even if they're upbringing was so perverted that they don't understand even that - well, in either case they should be put in prison. They are a danger to society regardless of morals.

    If a dog bites someone, it thinks it's doing the right thing - but we'll still lock it up or destroy it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Unfortunately people who haven't thought about it say there is no such thing as a 'wrong track'.
    These are the same people who will still point out everything that is wrong with society, and complain when I steal their car.

    great point!
    and yeah, they should be sentenced as adults, they are unsafe, and it unlikely they would change.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Basically it appears as though we all agree, but at the same time we are forced to acknowledge the age-old dilemma of those who decide not to recognize right and wrong as a legitimate reason to stop doing whatever they want.

    I think it's been said, but it's mostly a matter of perspective. It's like music and movie piracy. We justify it with all sorts of reasoning.

    1) They were charging too much for it.
    2) I wasn't going to buy it anyway.
    3) I'm teaching those corporate thugs a lesson.
    4) I'm not actually stealing anything.

    We are so incredibly blessed to have access to music and movies at all that we take it for granted and abuse it. If a child can't play with a toy responsibly and with consideration for others, they lose the toy. Sometimes I wish the same could be applied to art.

    In this world we can't just do whatever we want and that applies to everything. When you're an adult you have responsibilities and other people to consider.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Well I guess i'll just have to put a hole in everything and say I disagree. I think that the idea that artists are responsible for the actions of others is weak. I also think that artists are often made into scape goats for horific crimes.

    Recently there was a school shooting in Germany in wich 17 school children died. as a result, the German government is now trying to pass a bill to ban violent video games, because the school shooters had palyed violent video games, so obviously violent video games are the source of all evil in the world. The German government needed a scapegoat and found one in video game artists.

    They completly ignored the fact that professional criminal profilers like the FBI have proven that the reason people commit mass shootings is not because they play violent video games or see terrible things in artistic mediums, but because they seek immortality through infamy. The more heinous the crime you commit, the bigger the fuss kicked up by the news media, and the bigger the death toll, the longer the coverage, and the more likely your name will last in the halls of infamy.

    But no government will EVER admit that, because no politician who wants to keep their job is stupid enough to make an enemy of news media. So artists cop the blame: Counter strike is the training tool of terroists, that guy went and killed those people because he watched the terminator. It's disgusting that so many people willingly believe that people commit mass murder and rape for a reason as shallow as "they saw it in a move".

    Helmutt listed 4 catergories for this issue, and He'd probably put me in number 2, because I value freedom more than I value a healthy society, wich is a bit of an oxymoron because a healthy society is impossible without freedom. Benjamin Franklin said "Those who give up freedom to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." And if the recent history of America is anything to go by, he was right too.

    At the end of the day people are responsible for their own actions, and adults, regardless of external influences, are smart enough to understand the consequences of their actions. An artist should be free to express themselves however they damn well please, and anyone who blames an artist for their own actions, is a cowardly excuse for a human being.

    If a movie glorifies rape does it remove the human abillity to empathise and understand that inflicting pain upon others is wrong? NO. If a game shows excessive violence does it take away someones abillity to discern right from wrong? NO.

    I don't want to live in a world were freedom is sacrificed for the sake of having convienient scape goats on hand everytime someone does something bad.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "I value freedom more than I value a healthy society, wich is a bit of an oxymoron because a healthy society is impossible without freedom."

    Agreed. That is why it is up to us to choose to impose these restrictions on ourselves. I never suggested the law-makers step in and force us to be responsible, because that would be pointless. Laws do not change the heart, we do.

    You can ban all the video games you want, but unless parents stop buying games like GTA for their kids nothing will change.

    Zack, if I were to hound someone to the point where they became suicidal, by your logic it wouldn't be my problem. If he commits suicide that's his own fault, right? To me, that's creating a false reality that purely exist to be convenient to the bully instead of acknowledging how the real world works.

    If you are right then I should be able to blow smoke around ex-smokers, drink excessively around alcoholics and never worry about how they are affected. Hey, they're responsible for their own actions! How can I be held responsible for bringing out the worst in them? I just led them to the edge, they were the ones dumb enough to step off.

    Studies have proven that Hollywood has played a massive role in what is acceptable in modern society and what isn't. To be in such a position of power one MUST accept the responsibility that comes with it. Writers play a vital role in the actions taken by those who view their work, yet so many writers simply don't care.

    "At the end of the day people are responsible for their own actions, and adults, regardless of external influences, are smart enough to understand the consequences of their actions."

    No they aren't, which is my point. Far too many writers seem to have no awareness of the consequences of their actions. Why should their viewers?

    ReplyDelete
  14. I apologize, another thought occurs.

    "If a movie glorifies rape does it remove the human abillity to empathise and understand that inflicting pain upon others is wrong? NO. If a game shows excessive violence does it take away someones abillity to discern right from wrong? NO."

    I would answer a very strong YES to both. Can you honestly tell me that no external force of influence has the power to blur the lines been right and wrong for an individual on any given issue?

    What about the Nazi Movement? I mean, Hitler wasn't responsible at all for what happened to the Jews. Those Germans, regardless of external influences, were smart enough to understand the consequences of their actions. Right?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey Zack, disagreeing doesn't put a hole in everything, it keeps the conversation interesting! I hope this won't feel like 'ganging up', but since I do agree with Luke I'd like to make some points myself.

    Firstly, I agree with you that "anyone who blames an artist for their own actions, is a cowardly excuse for a human being." This is where teachers would bring out the 'would you jump off a bridge if he told you to' argument.

    But with the same measuring, if an artist has encouraged an action, I think it would be just as cowardly and blind to excuse himself from responsibility - considering we agree that art holds power.

    I guess the difference is that this post wasn't talking about legal responsibility, but about personal moral responsibility - How an artist should feel about his own work.

    If I was making movies glorifying rape, and I thought that art holds power - surely as a reasonably intelligent human being I would eventually think, 'Hey, maybe I shouldn't be doing this'... that is unless I genuinely thought rape was a good idea.

    Secondly, I can't agree that Freedom is more important than a Healthy Society. I agree that Freedom is most definitely a part of a Healthy Society, but I think that is mistaking the means for the ends.

    But let's not get into the legal side of it. This post was about the personal moral responsibility - and limiting one's own freedom is part of that. You limit your freedom everyday. Whether it be not shoplifting, or not killing that annoying guy at work. Pure freedom has consequences, one that I believe disallows a Healthy Society.

    Thirdly, when you say that "adults, regardless of external influences, are smart enough to understand the consequences of their actions". I don't believe humans are all that smart. Think how many hundreds are arrested every day just in Australia for NOT being that smart.

    Fourthly, blaming video games is bogus. That's right, bogus. Boo, German government. But having said that, I would still limit freedom and not let a youngster play GTA.

    Fifthly, SHAME ON YOU Luke for invoking Godwin's Law this early in the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  16. *hangs head in shame* It was the first example to come to mind with a great mass of people having the lines between right and wrong blurred by a charismatic source!

    I... I panicked. Forgive me, master. *bows in humble reverence*

    ReplyDelete
  17. It is all right, my son. There now, wipe your eyes.

    But we must learn from our mistakes, young one. And if you panic, use Stalin or even Jim Jones - there are so many excellent choices.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Like the Teletubbies! They... they're an excellent choice too, right?

    ...right?

    ReplyDelete
  19. What would Philip Zimbardom, Hannah Arendt and Stanley Milgram say about human choice and external influence?

    Freedom of conscience entails more dangers than authority and despotism.
    Michel Foucault

    There is a fine line between censorship and good taste and moral responsibility.
    Steven Spielberg

    ReplyDelete
  20. Here's another way of looking at it:

    Blame is not like a cake.

    When you share out a cake, someone has the most and someone has the least. Or everyone has equal shares, but small slices. And if someone has the whole cake, it means no one else has any.

    I don't think blame is like that. If someone chooses to watch the most objectionable and influencing rubbish, and then act on it - you'll have no argument from me that they are most likely 100% to blame.

    But just because 100% of the blame has been allocated, does not mean that there isn't a slice left for the artist who created it and published it for everyone to see - perhaps a very large slice.

    It's a bitter pill to swallow, especially for us 'smart independent' types, but this is why propaganda has worked so well since the Behistun inscription; because we're a race of easily influenceable imitators. Think of our most rebellious and freethinking types - most of them started wearing trench coats after seeing the Matrix.

    If a leader leads his followers off a cliff, then the leader and the followers are both fully and equally to blame.

    Luckily for you, Wachowski brothers, trench coats aren't particularly damaging to society.

    ReplyDelete

 
The Silent Knights - All Rights Reserved © ◄Design by Pocket, BlogBulk Blogger Templates